Leading Change From the "Adult Table"

“Too many coaches relegate themselves to the kid’s table and are really ineffective at making big, organizational-level changes. Agile coaches are change agents and should be sitting at the adult table”.  I am paraphrasing my colleague, but this was the gist of his lament when discussing effectiveness of some Agile coaches. It reminded me of my early Thanksgiving dinners as a kid. We would have our table in one room, while the adults held serious conversations about seriously important topics in another. The comparison immediately hit home, as I’ve seen this too many times in my consulting practice.

When pressed, he continued, “Leaders are not talking to each other in terms of happiness factors and velocity increases. Rather, they are discussing revenue trends, cost savings, and other business outcomes.” When they aren’t connecting, coaches and change agents become frustrated by the lack of organizational support for Agile transformations, and leaders become equally frustrated by lack of impact their Agile transformations have on their bottom line.

A few days later, while reflecting on our conversation, my colleague’s words struck me again. The problems he was articulating were rooted in basic tenets of effective change. 

Taking a step back, we know that successful transformations requires bidirectional, top-down and bottom-up energy. In order to create and sustain lasting change, pressure must come from both directions and connect. The role of effective change agents, or Agile coaches, is to harness and direct energy flowing up and connect it to the energy that may be flowing down from executives and leaders. The most powerful way to connect what’s happening on the ground to the impact most leaders care about is to connect your transformation message in a way that resonates with those at the top. In essence, reorient the conversation to that which is occurring at the “adult table.”

As you change the tenor of your conversation, it’s important to re-ground on some hard realities:

  • Change is hard… don’t underestimate it.

  • Lasting change requires leadership buy-in… and you may only get one shot at it.

  • Leading change cannot be delegated… but many leaders want to do just that.

Just as there are conversation topics that you avoid Thanksgiving dinner, there are some failure patterns I recommend you avoid, lest you get relegated to the “kids table:”

  1. Failing to Empathize. Assume that they want to do the right thing, even while challenged with the pressure to deliver on the bottom line.

  2. Using “Us vs. Them” language. Us + Them = We. Understand the unique role leaders hold within the organization and don’t create, or further exacerbate, any divides within the organization.

  3. Focusing too heavily on culture with a leader focused on strategy. Although important, leading with culture can close doors. Leading with outcomes meaningful to the leader or organization opens conversations.

  4. Being unwilling to let go. It’s not about “your Agile” or your timeframe for adoption. Successful adoption of Agile Values and Principles are about those that make an impact on the organization and not necessarily those of the change agent or on the change agent’s timeline.

Moving beyond the analogy, you need to connect directly with those impactful people in the organization to affect important change. As change agents, you need to be thoughtful about your approach to identifying and interacting with those influencers and seize the opportunity to make a difference in the organization. The simple approach I recommend include leveraging a few frameworks and techniques:


Start by identifying the power players. Focus your efforts on impactful leaders using the Power/Interest grid from Making Strategy, by Colin Eden and Fran Ackermann. Prime targets will land within the top right Players quadrant. Spend the most time with those you deem have high interest and high power. Second, spend some amount of time with those in the Subjects quadrant and seek guidance from those in the Context Setters box. It’s a simple but powerful tool to focus your energy on connecting with the right people. (Pro Tip: I also recommend this framework for identifying stakeholders for products and teams.)

Now that you have identified the right people, meet individually with each of the players. Start by asking two simple questions:

  • What is important to you?

  • What can I do to help you succeed?

Be sure to do more listening than talking. As you are listening, begin to build a profile of the person that you want to influence. Key things to listen for include:

  • What are their goals?

  • What are they worried about?

  • Who do they trust?

  • Who are their influencers?

If you listen carefully, you will likely hear where Agility can be the answer.

For example, for the leader who is interested in reducing expenses, building the right things first reduces waste, resulting in cost savings.

For the leader worried about their position in the market, reduced “big upfront planning and design” delivers products to customers faster.

The key is to connect the change, and your change message, to the concerns, drivers, and goals that are important to the leader.

After your initial discovery meeting, setup a follow-up time to discuss your recommendations. Made to Stick, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, includes an effective framework for crafting your effective message of change: SUCCESs


Simple: Identify the simple core of your change message and stick to it. You must prioritize your ideas, be a master of exclusion (what not to focus on), and stick to the core message.

Unexpected: Grab the leader’s attention by surprising them. Generate interest and curiosity for your message.

Concrete: Use sensory information and concrete images to connect to the leader’s sense of action.

Credible: Ideas need to be believable. Look for people through which you can test your message. Hint: Who does your leader trust, or are influenced by?

Emotional: Help the leader see the importance of your message. Help them connect emotionally to your idea for change.

Stories: Empower the leader to leverage a good narrative to compel others to change.   Hint: Share good-news stories, or “green chutes,” within the transformation.

Avoid the common failure patterns, use a few simple frameworks to craft your message and you can claim your spot at the “adult table.” You've earned it by empathizing with leaders you want to influence, thoughtfully crafting your message you’ve compelled them to connect with energy found in transformation. Now, reap the rewards of sustainable, impactful change… and your permanent seat at the “adult table.”

Oceans of Plastics - Scrum Gathering Austin Report

Oceans of Plastics - Scrum Gathering Austin Report

At the 2019 Global Scrum Gathering Applied Frameworks introduced attendees to #FrameworksForSocialGood with Oceans of Plastics. The principle behind #FrameworksForSocialGood is to apply the unique skills and knowledge we possess to solve challenging social problems. At the conference we engaged with hundreds of participants to come up with solutions to clean up the millions of tons of plastic waste in our oceans today, and how to reduce the amount of plastics being dumped into the oceans every year.

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Frameworks Show the Power of Community Engagement at Scrum Gathering Austin

At Scrum Gathering Austin, our team engaged with the conference attendees to raise awareness around the issue of Oceans of Plastic and demonstrated the power of #FrameworksForSocialGood.  Each day we used a different framework to guide the conference attendees along a journey that began with awareness and ended with action.

As you may recall from Austin, each day we used a different framework to guide you along a journey that began with awareness and ended with action. Here is a short summary of the frameworks we used plus links to whitepapers describing how you can use these frameworks on your own.

  1. What Lies Beneath: day #1 was about introducing the conference attendees to the problem of the Ocean of Plastic and beginning the process of examining this difficult problem from multiple perspectives.  This framework helped people think about any intermediate goals that would show we are on track, recognize any strengths we can apply to solving this problem and identify what impediments stand in our way.  The objective of this framework was to share knowledge and to begin to develop alignment among the Scrum Alliance community members about the scope and nature of the problem.

  2. Pains-Gains Map: day #2 was about exploring personal consumption of plastics and how our lives would be impacted if we all used less plastic.  In this framework, we asked the conference attendees to identify how using less plastic might inconvenience them (as “pains”) and what benefits they might realize (as “gains”) if they had less plastic in their lives.  Pains-Gains Map is an especially powerful framework to generate deep insights into the behavior of specific market segments, in this case, plastic consumers.

  3. Buy A Feature: day #3 was about decisions and action..  On the last day of the conference, we gave each participant a packet of fictitious money ($1500) and asked this question, “Which of these solutions to Oceans of Plastic would be most impactful from your perspective?”  Our goal with Buy A Feature was to discover which of the solutions were compelling enough for people to put their money where their mouth was.   

This was great experience, so thank you to everyone who visited us at the conference, engaged with the frameworks and shared their insights with us. Remember, the white papers have instructions on how to use all these frameworks, so best of luck facilitating your own #FrameworksForSocialGood!

#FrameworksForSocialGood, powerful tools for building a better world


One of Applied Frameworks’ corporate values is “Community: We support important causes through pro bono and direct contribution of time and resources.”  Recently, we asked ourselves, “How we could take our unique skills and use them to benefit the community?”  

Our answer, #FrameworksForSocialGood.  After all, the Applied Frameworks team leverages powerful collaboration frameworks to help our clients solve difficult business problems, so why not apply those same tools to solve tough social problems?

As an organization, we aspire to move from transactional community service to an ongoing state of civic responsibility.  #FrameworksForSocialGood is our way of combining our deep knowledge of frameworks, our strong sense of civic responsibility and our deep-rooted belief that only through collaboration can we solve difficult social problems.  

At the 2019 Global Scrum Gathering in Austin, we brought #FrameworksForSocialGood plus a number of collaboration frameworks to see how the Scrum community would react to our unique engagement model.  Our goal was to create some deep thinking around the difficult problem of removing plastic from the ocean and begin to build consensus on some possible solutions.  Overall, It was a fun and engaging experience for us, the organizers of the conference and the participants.  

Stay tuned to this site (and our hashtag #FrameworksForSocialGood) to learn more about the other ways we inspire others to take greater civic responsibility through collaboration frameworks.  In the meantime, we challenge you to ask yourself how you can use your unique skills to give back to your community and those around you. Also, take a moment to join our LinkedIn Group and share how you’re using your skills for good with the Applied Frameworks community

An Ocean of Plastic - #FrameworksForSocialGood

On March 18th, the body of a curvier beaked whale was retrieved from Davao Bay in the Philippines. The cause of death - starvation and dehydration as a result of ingesting ninety pounds of nylon rope, plastic bags, and other plastic objects found stuffed in the animal’s stomach!

A month later and a half a world away, a pregnant sperm whale was found dead off the coast of Sardinia. In this poor animal, marine biologist retrieved nearly fifty pounds of routine plastic products - fishing nets, fishing lines, flip flops and plastic bag, pipes, plates and drinking cups!

"These tragic stories are not isolated or freak occurrences but a series of troubling statistics that point towards growing global problem - our oceans are becoming clogged with plastic detritus and debris." said Carlton Nettleton, Chief Product Owner at Applied Frameworks.  "Something needs to be done about this complex global problem because the status quo is untenable.  If we do nothing, and continue along our current (mis)use of plastic, the oceans are going to become a plastic soup."

Since 1997, when the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered in the North Pacific gyre, our awareness of the amount of plastic clogging our oceans, and its impact to marine life, has grown.  Here are some data points meant to shock you about the severity of the problem:

  • 8,000,000 metric tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year, that is the equivalent of one dump truck stuffed full of plastic being dropped into the ocean every minute.

  • Today, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is nearly three times the size of Texas. In the last twenty years, four other garbage gyres have been discovered increasing the amount of the ocean’s surface covered with plastic trash equivalent to the land area of the continental United States.

  • Over 700 species of marine animals have been documented to consume ocean plastic - 90% of all sea birds, 50% of sea turtles and approximately 10% of whales and dolphins have all ingested plastic. If you have eaten seafood recently, chances are you ate plastic.

  • More then 50% of the plastic junk in the ocean today has been deposited there within the last twenty years. Yet, our efforts to recycle this garbage remains less than 10%. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish!

"When Carlton shared the impact of this problem with me, I knew we had a unique opportunity to help others see what we were seeing." said Jason Tanner, CEO of Applied Frameworks. "Over the course of the next three days at Scrum Gathering Austin, we are going to use our expertise with frameworks to help raise awareness of this problem, explore why we do not do more to resolve this challenge and inspire action. Based on the the guidance provided by the conference attendees, Applied Frameworks is going to make a charitable donation to a non-profit dedicated to helping clean-up the oceans."

Come visit us at Booth #600 to learn more about this problem, share your perspective, commit to making a change in your use of plastic and inspire others to change their behaviors.  Each day, we will be exploring a different elements related to the problem of an ocean of plastic to gain deeper understanding of why this challenge is so hard to resolve.

  1. May 20th - What Lies Beneath: in order to understand any complex problem, it is important to explore the issue from a variety of perspectives. Help us go below the surface to identify the various factors which contribute to the accumulation of plastic trash in the ocean.

  2. May 21st - Pains-Gains Map: to devise a lasting fix to a complex problem requires a deep understanding of the aspirations and fears of the human actors. Take time to explore the lives of plastic consumers, i.e. ourselves, by identifying what benefits and pains we could experience if we use less single-use plastic.

  3. May 22nd - Buy A Feature: there are number of interesting proposals that address the plastic contamination of the oceans from the mundane, banning straws, to the high-tech, deploying autonomous garbage drones. Help us identify which of these solutions are most appealing to you, and we will make a charitable donation to help rescue the oceans.

If you cannot make it to Scrum Gathering Austin, we will be scheduling a few on-line forums to allow you the chance to participate in this project and help understand why this problem is not getting resolved.  In the meantime, learn more about this problem, recycle the existing plastic found in your home, think of ways to reduce your use of plastic and share your direct action using our hashtag #FrameworksForSocialGood.